Madlenka by Peter Sis – Book Review (Around the World in 50 weeks)

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Written and Illustrated by Peter Sis

Published by Farra Strauss Giroux 2000

Suitable for ages 3-7

The story of Madlenka is about an exuberant little girl, who lives in New York City. When she find out her tooth is loose, she immediately grabs her raingear and hits the streets to find everyone she knows to tell them about it. Skipping along, she meets many friends who have settled in New York after emigrating from other places in the world. Mr. Gaston from France, who owns the boulangerie, Mr. Singh from India, who owns the newsagents, Mr. Ciao from Italy, with his ice cream shop, and more. All must be told of the loose tooth! Once everyone has been told, including her best friend Cleopatra, from Egypt, Madlenka returns home late. When her parents inquire where she has been, she realizes that her day’s journey didn’t just take her all around the block, but took her all around the world.

This multicultural book that Peter Sis has created is a dynamic and intriguing book for young readers to explore new cultures. The die cut-out shapes and the spiraling text makes for quite an experience from a reader/viewer’s point of view. As Madlenka visits each person and dreams of their homeland, the readers are flooded with images and words of that culture, sparking interest and discussion. In France, we see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and delicious French pastries. In Asia, we see lucky dragons, rice and black tea. The greeting “Hello” is also offered in each language, which many children will catch onto rapidly.

Sis uses many different artistic elements to create a multi-faceted piece of art. The first element to be noted is the changes in emphasis between the real world and Madlenka’s imagination. Sis uses much darker and more muddied hues when illustrating the city streets of New York to not only portray the rainy day, but to help accentuate the liveliness and excitement of Madlenka’s mind. Sis also uses contrasts to help the reader follow Madlenka through the city and through her daydreams. In the story, each time Madlenka moves to a different place on the block the store is given a bright color to make it stand out from the black and white image around it. Sis also uses this technique on Madlenka herself. As her imagination drifts off to Germany or Latin America, we can always find her with her bright pink outfit and her yellow umbrella. As part of Madlenka’s monologue, she often explains different aspects of each culture to the reader using words and pictures. Sis created these pictures as if a child drew them, which will appeal to the young readers.

As is so often the case with Sis’ work, children will probably want to pore alone over the detail on each page. While this could be a great springboard to start talking about maybe other nationalities in a child’s class or neighbourhood, it may be appropriate to point out the stereotypical nature of the employment Sis has given each immigrant. So saying, once again this is a book of visual delight and fits well into my world theme.

Another review I wrote about Sis last year that you may enjoy is The Tree of Life.

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25 Responses to Madlenka by Peter Sis – Book Review (Around the World in 50 weeks)

  1. Ahhhh this sounds like a very delightful book for me to check out of our local library Joanna. Not only because of the sweet story itself, but because there is much for me to research here, in how Sis introduces so many facets of multicultural aspects to us the reader. Like you this is very much up my street and I thankyou very much, for bringing it to my attention. Loved the review and visual detail of Sis’s work, so very thorough, thankyou.

  2. An “around the world” book for your around the world series — how very appropriate! I, too, would have some concern about the stereotyping, but applaud the way the various cultures are included in the book. The illustration style sounds intriguing and effective.

  3. Jim Randolph says:

    I love love love Peter Sis’s work. So intricately beautifully and lighter than air.

  4. Joanna,
    This is a perfect selection for your Around the World reviews. A very enchanting and engaging review. The storyline is so childlike and I love how her imagination soars as she visits her multicultural friends. I particularly like your discussion of the beautiful illustrations as they sound unique. It does sound like a great classroom book and a springboard for discussions about different cultures, I am not familiar with Perter Sis’s work, so I’ll be excited to look up his work. Great choice and review! – Pat

  5. Tammy Dahle says:

    This sounds like a beautiful picture book I need to check out. I’m always on the look out for a great book I can share with my daughter and her class.
    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Madlenka is my favorite book by Peter Sis to read to my kids. But, I thoroughly enjoyed one evening when I read three of his other books by myself. (The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, The Three Golden Keys, and A Small Tall Tale from the Far Far North). It was a very memorable night of reading.

  7. I haven’t read this Madlenka, but I’m pretty sure we have a different one where she’s walking dogs around the city – it was a gift to my kids when they were little. I’m inspired to go find it so I can look at Sis’ art up close!

  8. Joanna says:

    We have Madlenka’s dog in the school library too, so I should take a look. I am truly enamored with his art!

  9. Russ Cox says:

    I will have to march down to the local library and look for this book! Thanks for posting about it.

  10. Lee Wind says:

    Love the around the world theme you’re working on here – though I agree that as whimsical and lovely as this book’s concept sounds, there’s definitely a stereotype-danger to keep in mind. In a way, for a book published in 2000, it sounds old-fashioned. Couldn’t the French man be an internet guy? Or the Indian man a triathlete? But I’m glad to know about it. Thanks as well for being part of the 2012 Comment Challenge!
    Keep Commenting!

  11. Mary says:

    I do like this one, and “Madlenka’s Dog”, and I think with discussion they are good choices. Thanks for pointing out the stereotypes that are included – that’s one thing that does bother me, but not enough to avoid the book because the artwork is so phenomenal. Besides, sometimes I think it’s good to have a bit of stereotyping as it brings up avenues for discussion and exploration (especially how that issue could have been done differently).

  12. Margo Dill says:

    I read and reviewed the Madlenka book about soccer–which was a perfect book for the WORLD CUP. It also celebrates diversity.

  13. The first work by Sis that I encounter was “The Wall.” It blew me away. How brilliantly his art and words work together to convey what it felt like to grow up behind the iron curtain. I’m looking forward to reading his latest work “The Conference of the Birds.”

  14. Joanna says:

    The Wall left me speechless, too! “The Conference of the Birds” is also on my TBR list, Michelle.

  15. Fell in love with Peter Sis when I accidentally discovered “The Wall” while in Prague. Such genius! 🙂 I haven’t read this one yet, I have a feeling my daughter would enjoy this.

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